Rick and Alita Rogers & the Yinyang of Art Collecting

Collectors Rick and Alita Rogers. Photo by Tim Fitzwater.

Richard and Alita Rogers symbolize the Yin and Yang of art collecting. Rick has pursued the art of acquiring fine objects since he was a child, starting with coins and moving into antiques and furniture as a young man. Roughly a decade after marrying Alita in 1982, he had worked hard and long at B. W. Rogers Co.–his family’s industrial motion and control business—and he had enough income to purchase and enjoy a diverse range of artworks.

Alita, on the other hand, views their collection of approximately 3,000 pieces by internationally prominent contemporary artists as Rick’s achievement.

“I don’t share in the obsession to own it,” says Alita. She is the daughter of two New Yorkers, but grew up in Kent, Ohio, after her father became an education professor at Kent State University, where Alita earned her undergraduate business degree in human resource management and her graduate degree in educational technologies in 1986 before working as an HR manager at O’Neill’s family department store in Akron. “I love looking at it, and I like all the trappings of collecting, like meeting the artists, traveling, learning about art, but I am a real minimalist.”

Thus, they tease each other about being a complementary Yin-Yang. “Rick says I am his guardrails because I tend to want to look at things,” Alita continues. “I don’t need to own them, and Rick loves owning them and living with them.

Fortunately, the Rogers own two homes next to each other in a quiet Akron neighborhood. Both homes are full of art from their collection, but the second house serves as a private Museum of Modern Art and Rick’s office. The property features sculptures and a beautifully landscaped Japanese garden that the two began cultivating after being awed by several meticulously sculpted gardens on a trip to Japan.

“As a minimalist, I find it harder to enjoy pieces when there’s too much to look at, where Rick adores that,” Alita adds. “Rick walks the houses and the yard at least once or twice a day, just taking it all in and I do that to a lesser degree, so I’m more about living with art that I like. There are times when I say, ‘Oh wait a minute. I forget that was in the living room.’”

While Rick’s tastes are more open and extensive, Alita says she finds some of the pieces “nightmarish” and not something she wants to wake up to every day. She also believes some of the nude artworks that Rick includes in the regularly rotated collection objectify women. Those pieces, she assures, are exhibited only next door.

Rick’s commitment to collecting art seriously started around 2000. Eva Kwong, a ceramics artist and professor at Kent State University, whom he met about that time, helped nurture an interest in ceramics.

Today, Kwong’s vivid work is strikingly displayed on an outside wall of their gallery home. Both houses contain ceramics, drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures. Artists in their eclectic and far-reaching collection include Hans Bellmer, Peter Voulkos, Tip Toland, John De Andrea, and Beth Cavener. (Visit hieronymusobjects.com for more details about their collection.)

“I really enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of being around the art,” Rick explains. “There is also the fulfilling aspect of finding an artist that I like and buying their work and having it around me. There is a lot of joy in that.”

In 1976, Rogers graduated from Hiram College with a BA in chemistry and biology and then earned his MBA from The Ohio State University in 1980. Following that he launched and ran Tribute Software for fourteen years. When his father retired from the business founded by Rick’s grandfather in 1928, he stepped in to run it for another twenty years, then retired in 2014.

In 2016, Rick won a Knight Arts Challenge Grant that he used to found Curated Storefront. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to transforming downtown Akron into a more vibrant community through the arts. By staging art shows in vacant spaces in the city’s core they have created a level of interest at the street edge that stimulates commercial development.

To date, Rogers and his team have programmed forty buildings; completed more than 150 installations, including murals on a set of shipping containers on the north end of Main Street; and established about 10,000 square feet of artist studio space in the Bounce Innovation Hub, a former BFGoodrich plant. The inventive project has featured the work of more than 325 artists from Northeast Ohio and all over the world. Curated Storefront has also collaborated with and recruited artists at most of the region’s art schools.

“We needed a mix of national, international and local artists to create an experience that is distinctive and unique,” Rogers states. “You have to have diversity of programming to raise the standard of the art and the element of excitement in the city.”

Curated Storefront’s extensive community arts projects include collaboration with Akron’s PorchRokr Music and Arts Festival; serving as a partner with FRONT International at the historic Quaker Square building; the Curated Courthouse, a selection of artworks to refresh the interiors of the Summit County Courthouse; an artist residency program at LeBron James’ I Promise School; and World of Wonders, a mini museum teeming with robots and other curious objects from the eccentric mind of the late artist Clayton Bailey.

Recently, the organization announced a new series of installations made possible through a grant from The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to mark the company’s 125th anniversary.

Since Curated Storefront’s inception in 2017, the art exhibits have engaged more than 100,000 visitors. More than 500 people have taken guided educational tours. And a dozen buildings have ultimately been commercially developed and revitalized.

“Rick’s vision for Akron is based on a deceptively simple insight that downtown Akron had become hollowed out in all of these empty storefronts,” says Fred Bidwell, executive director, FRONT International Cleveland. “So his mission to repopulate, and reactivate those storefronts so they can be made beautiful improves the quality of life, and is also what’s needed to restart economic development and revive Akron’s downtown.”

In October, Rick received the Cleveland Arts Prize’s Martha Joseph Prize for Distinguished Service to the Arts in recognition of his work as an exemplar of civic leadership, compassion, unwavering dedication and a driving cultural force in Akron. He was honored for playing a pivotal role in shaping and revitalizing the city’s development, growth, and inclusivity, and for providing a “vision that will continue to inspire generations to come.”

Of Curated Storefront’s resounding success, Rick says, “I credit the incredible talent we’ve attracted and the amazing dedication our team has to our mission. We’re nimble, and we’re able to respond quickly to new projects. It’s been invigorating to have that level of teamwork and people jumping in to do creative things with extremely limited resources.”

Initially, Alita served on the Curated Storefront board, and spent a lot of time cleaning empty storefronts and arranging some of the exhibits in the windows. However, after having worked at a strategic and management level for about ten years at B.W. Rogers before Rick retired, she told him she’d been his partner in work, but was ready to do her own thing.

“I am not involved at the moment in Curated Storefront, other than to be Rick’s biggest fan and applaud what he does for Akron,” she says. “It’s really exciting because he’s such a cheerleader, and his enthusiasm is boundless.”

Alita served as an Akron Art Museum board member for eight years and then moved on to volunteer with Grace House, a hospice facility for homeless people in Akron. Currently, she is writing a cookbook based on forty years of cooking for kids that features family recipes inherited from several generations. The book is inspired by their two daughters, each of whom has one daughter and one son. Sarah Rogers Morris is completing her PhD in art history at the University of Illinois, Chicago, while her younger sister, Madeline Stull, MD, recently started her first-year residency at MetroHealth System in Cleveland.

On the home gallery front, the Rogers continue to treasure their remarkable collection in their own personal ways, but they don’t just keep all that glorious art to themselves.

“We really like sharing the art, so we do a lot of things like fundraising events to get people over,” Alita says. “It’s way more fun to share it than to just look at it ourselves.”

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